The Federal Government may have breached its own guidelines when it transferred Kurdish-Iranian man Fazel Chegeni Nejad to immigration detention on Christmas Island when he had been identified as a high risk to himself, a coronial inquest into his death has been told.
The 34-year-old escaped from the island’s North West Immigration Detention Centre on November 6, 2015.
Mr Chegeni Nejad’s body was later found close to the centre’s fence, with what medical authorities determined was a ligature compression of the neck.
In his opening address at the start of the two-week inquest in Perth today, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Lyle Housiaux urged the inquest to consider the decision to transfer the deceased from Darwin on September 19, 2015.
Sergeant Housiaux told the court concerns had already been raised about Mr Chegeni Nejad’s mental health, a significant neurological appointment had been made for him, and he had been identified as high risk.
“This transfer may have been detrimental to Mr Chegeni Nejad’s already fragile mental health,” he said.
Sergeant Housiaux added there were no, or insufficient, mental health services on the Christmas Island detention centre to treat him.
Assault conviction preceded death
Mr Chegeni Nejad had initially arrived on the island by boat from Indonesia as an asylum seeker on October 23, 2011.
As a Faili Kurd, he was found by authorities to be a stateless man. But Sergeant Housiaux noted he spent a total of 1,477 days in immigration detention.
On December 22, 2011, he was involved in an incident at the Curtin Detention centre in Western Australia, with four other men, and later found guilty of assaulting a male Afghan detainee.
He was sentenced to six months and one day in jail, later suspended on appeal.
The inquest heard this sentence meant he failed the character test under immigration laws and was unlikely to be ever granted asylum in Australia.
As a stateless man, he could not be sent back to Iran, and Sergeant Housiaux said it meant he would be held in detention for an indefinite time.
“It appears his mental health began to deteriorate further,” he said.
Protestors outside the Perth Magistrate Court where the coroner is investigating the death of Fazel Chegani. (ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)
‘No reaction’ to escape alarms
At about 9.15pm on November 6, 2015 he escaped from detention on Christmas Island undetected after climbing over an internal fence and a 4.7-metre external fence, triggering alarms each time.
Despite the alarms going off, Sergeant Housiaux said the Serco guards in the centre’s control room did not react.
He said due to a lack of training, they failed “to trigger escape protocols”.
As a result, when Mr Chegeni Nejad was reported as missing the next morning, authorities initially thought he was hiding somewhere in the detention centre.
Australian Feral Police started a search at 8:00am the next day, and his body was found 50 metres from his escape point, in an area which Sergeant Housiaux said may have been previously searched.
He urged the coroner to consider Serco’s failure to raise the alarm and the delayed search.
He also asked whether Mr Chegeni Nejad’s death could have been prevented if the search had started earlier.
Claire O’Connor, SC, for Mr Chegeni Nejad’s family, told the court if the recommendations of previous inquiries relating to the mental health of detainees in immigration detention had been implemented, he would not have taken his life.
She said he would have been held in a psychiatric facility rather than immigration detention.
Ms O’Connor said the negative impact of long-term detention on people combined with a lack of health services was already very well known.
The inquest continues.